Kenichiro Fukui, born on May 4, 1970, in Hyogo, is a versatile musician best known for co-founding The Black Mages. He has created a wide range of rock, techno, and symphonic music as a composer, arranger, producer, synthesizer operator, conductor, and multi-instrumentalist. While little is known about his background, Fukui is an extensively educated musician with a doctorate degree. Fukui became at video game composer in 1991 when he joined Konami. Initial roles included the sound effects for Sunset Riders, some Morricone-inspired pieces on The Lone Ranger, and the boss theme for Lethal Enforcers, He also contributed the arrangement of Motoaki Furukawa's "Breeze" for the album Xexex. Having become an established employee, he created an upbeat score for the arcade adaptation of G.I. Joe in 1992. His other composing work, 1993's Violent Storm, was a solo effort where he fused a variety of styles within a rock and hip-hop framework, even integrating pre-recorded rap samples at points. With Konami's in-house original band the Kukeiha Club, he also assisted Motoaki Furukawa as the guest synthesizer player in their 1993 second album Kukeiha Club ~ Hope. His final work was the arrangement of MIDI Power Ver. 5.0 Snatcher. His Konami works pre-empted many of his Square projects, reflected by both his employment as an arranger, keyboardist, and composer of shooter soundtracks, as well as his use of electronic and rock styles. At the end of 1993, he left the company looking for more individual recognition and challenge.
Between joining the Osaka branch of Square with Tsuyoshi Sekito in 1995 and helping to establish The Black Mages in 2003, Kenichiro Fukui was underused by the company, but did work on one well-known score and a series of musically influential games. In 1997, he contributed to a stylistic and technological revolution of the company's music by producing the predominantly techno Einhänder soundtrack. His score expanded upon an experiment initiated by the Tobal series by using electronic dance music and a variety of technological innovations (including integration of vocorder samples) to provide a stimulating and memorable accompaniment to Square's first scrolling shooter; as one of the most popular shooter soundtracks ever created, Fukui appealed to a sizeable audience and aided the accessibility of his score through integrating many rhythmically appealing features, memorable themes like "Badlands," and a variety of electronic dance music subgenres beyond 'plain techno'. While his subsequent project, 2000's score to All Star Pro-Wrestling, produced by Square's fifth development team at Osaka, received little recognition, it provided the background for the establishment of The Black Mages. He collaborated with Tsuyoshi Sekito and Kumi Tanioka in a convincing attempt to bring hard rock to Square. Though the score received no official soundtrack release, two tracks co-composed by Fukui appeared as a bonus at the end of the All Star Pro-Wrestling II Original Soundtrack, a score where Fukui only otherwise appeared as a drummer. Fukui co-composed the final instalment to the series with Sekito, often providing a light L.A. fusion style in contrast with Sekito's works, though his contributions were shrouded in mystery due to DigiCube's bankruptcy preventing an official album release.
Kenichiro Fukui and Tsuyoshi Sekito's album The Black Mages changed the course of Fukui's career and set up the most successful video game band to date. One day in 2002, keyboardist Fukui and guitarist Sekito ended up experimenting with several Final Fantasy battle themes in the middle of a jam session. The album The Black Mages was commissioned when they impressed Nobuo Uematsu and Michio Okamiya with the results at Square Enix's Tokyo branch. Arranged, performed, and implemented solely by Fukui and Sekito, it featured hard rock arrangements of various classic battle themes supported by many improvised guitar and keyboard solos. The success of this album resulted in the formulation of a six-piece band to perform the arrangements live with Tsuyoshi Sekito (Guitar), Michio Okamiya (Guitar), Kenichiro Fukui (Keyboards), Keiji Kawamori (Bass Guitar), Arata Hanyuda (Drums), and Nobuo Uematsu (Organ). The Black Mages were an international hit and went on to feature in the Dark Chronicle Premium Arrange and release a DVD of their first live concert. Their second album, released in December 2004, was eagerly anticipated and saw Fukui arrange three classic themes "Zeromus," "The Man with the Machine Gun," and, in order to create a pseudo-operatic rock anthem, "To Zanarkand" in a variety styles. He was also the principle arranger and guitarist behind "Blue Blast - Winning the Rainbow," a theme created to accompany Japanese wrestler Takehiro Murahama entering the ring. Soon after, Fukui and the band featured in a second Japanese concert, which received an exclusive DVD release, and made their overseas debut at the More Friends - Music from Final Fantasy concert in Los Angeles.
Kenichiro Fukui was a multifaceted influence in the score to 2005's highly anticipated film Final Fantasy VII Advent Children. In addition to being a percussionist, pianist, and conductor for several tracks on the album, Fukui was responsible for manipulating and refining seven of Nobuo Uematsu's compositions in a wide range of styles; his arrangements included the enchanting chorale "The Promised Land," the tension-building themes "Beyond the Wasteland" and "Sign," rock arrangements such as "Black Water" and "Battle in the Forgotten City," and the band interpretation of the partly symphonic "Advent: One Winged Angel," premiered at the More Friends concert. In a related project, Fukui performed as an organist on three of Tsuyoshi Sekito's battle theme arrangements for the Romancing Saga Minstrel Song. The same year, Fukui expressed a humorous side by making several zany additions to Hanjuku Hero 4: The 7 Heroes; they included a parody of Beethoven featuring excerpts from his fifth and ninth symphonies with nonsensical lyrics and even a rendition of Nobuo Uematsu's own "Otherworld," where heavy metal vocals were swapped with synthesized roars and yelps. For 2005's Front Mission 5 ~Scars of the War~ Original Soundtrack, Fukui revisted the field of electronica once more; his compositions, while unified by emphatic electronic beats and a focus on creating atmosphere, were stylistically diverse and a significant contrast to Hidenori Iwasaki's mostly militaristic compositions.
Fukui remained relatively prolific in his final years at Square Enix. He was the lead composer and synthesizer operator of 2006's externally developed shooter Project Sylpheed. He crafted a vibrant electro-acoustic score with assistance from Junya Nakano, Takahiro Nishi, and Kumi Tanioka unified by a memorable two-tiered main theme. Around the same time, he contributed the arrangement of "This is the Final Battle" performed by The Black Mages for the bonus tracks in the Final Fantasy III Original Soundtrack. Temporarily Uematsu's arranger of choice, Fukui was also responsible for arranging the English version of Angela Aki's "Kiss Me Good-Bye" for Final Fantasy XII. Fukui's emotive arrangement made a number of instrumental changes to the original version of the theme and was so successful that it was used in both the game's soundtrack release and the Japanese release of Final Fantasy XII above the Japanese version of the song. He also worked on Final Fantasy XII Revenant Wings, producing minimal arrangements of Hitoshi Sakimoto's Final Fantasy XII score with the Basiscape team. This reduced the number of channels for each piece so that Keiji Kawamori could implement the track into the DS' notoriously difficult software with a decrease in sound quality. On Final Fantasy IV's 2007 DS remake, he conventionally arranger approximately a third of the instrumental themes alongside Junya Nakano. More significantly, he arranged Uematsu's "Theme of Love" into Megumi Ida's vocal theme "Tsuki no Akari"; this role was more demanding than "Kiss Me Good-Bye" as it required him to transform an instrumental theme as opposed to take a secondary role to Uematsu.
In the second half of 2007, Fukui left Square Enix after securing a job as a lecturer. Since April 2009, he has taught at Tokyo Mode Gakuen's HAL Tokyo, a new technology and design college preparing those wanting to enter the increasingly competitive games industry. At his department, he teaches specialist four year courses in game composition, sound engineering, and sound creation. He works closely with two other former game composers at the department, ex-Sega member Taihei Sato and ex-Konami member Nobuko Toda, and regularly invites guests such as Nobuo Uematsu to provide special seminars. The course is one of the first of its kind and has already attracted many students. While preparing for his new role, he served as the keyboardist, mixer, and lead arranger on The Black Mages III ~Darkness and Starlight~" at the start of 2008. He revisited the band's classic rock style with interpretations of Final Fantasy VII's "Opening ~ Bombing Mission" and Final Fantasy III's "This is the Final Battle". In addition, he arranged the iconic "Aria..." and concluding section of the band's rock-operatic interpretation of Final Fantasy VI's "Maria and Draco". However, perhaps his most significant contribution was a soft and romantic instrumental rendition of Final Fantasy XI's "Distant Worlds" at the centre of the album. Fukui joined the band for the final time in August that year for a lavishly produced concert at Yokohama Blitz. Shortly afterwards, The Black Mages were disbanded for creative reasons and Fukui did not join their successor, the Earthbound Papas.
Despite his teaching role, Fukui has managed to participate in a wide range of album and score projects as an arranger in recent years. HIs album arrangements have ranged from a mellow piano-based performance for Kono Aozora ni Yakusoku Wo, a rocking battle arrangement for Etrian Odyssey II, a bubbly jazz-based opener for Mushihimesama, and a pumping techno mix on DeathSmiles. In addition to reflecting his versatility, these contributions fitted the overall concept of these albums. As a score arranger, he revisited his time at Konami with two contributions to the parodic shooter Otomedius G. In addition, he reunited with Nobuo Uematsu to produce contributions to two of his biggest projects in 2010, Final Fantasy XIV and Lord of Arcana, hybridising orchestrations with electronic and rock elements once again. The reputable artist has also continued to pursue vocal music production, having composed a song for the R-Mix play Maoutensyou for Megumi Ida and arranged a track from the studio album Songs of the Stars for Manami Kiyota. Fukui intends to pursue further composition and arrangements roles in the future. Though never a prolific employee at Square Enix, his competent, creative, and endearing contributions in the areas rock, electronica, and orchestration have left a considerable legacy. His musical and technical experiences will also be an asset to HAL Tokyo's music department for the foreseeable future.
© Biography by Chris Greening (September 2007). Last updated on July 3, 2011. Do not republish without formal permission.